YU is Massive
YU is massive. If you took it upon yourself to meet one new person every day, it would around 8 years until you would meet every student here. I remember on my first day of college, surely one of the more impactful and momentous occasions of my life, and all I was able to think was “This place is freaking huge!”
Similarly daunting in breadth and scope is the incredible diversity amongst the student body. People from all streams of life, from all variants of Judaism, are all here, present in this place. If one were asked to pin down one factor that ties us all together, the answer would probably vary. A teacher or administrator would probably say we are all united in our thirst for knowledge. Some may say we all share the same Jewish identity. My friends would probably point out our universal appreciation for free food. Often, our thoughts are noticeably shaped by the prism of our personality. I don’t know what it says about me, but what I notice is that everyone in this place has--problems.
It’s almost like an unspoken ice breaker for some people here. “Hi, nice to meet you! What’s your name? Why are you unhappy here?” One person thinks YU is too frum. His neighbor thinks the opposite. This guy wishes he could dorm at home. The security is too harsh, the Caf isn’t good, too many emails… the list goes on. There is an atmosphere of dissatisfaction and resentment towards anything that goes on, more so than any other place I’ve attended. Perhaps its just college in general. It certainly isn’t all unjustified. Obviously there are some legitimate problems and anyone who works for YU would in all likelihood gladly admit to that. Needless to say, there is work to be done here, but the ratio of problem-noticers to problem-fixers strikes me as a little unbalanced.
This is an issue which hits close to home for me and I suspect many of us. Many of us feel a strong sense of loyalty and kinship with the State of Israel, and as a result undergo the tumultuous roller-coaster of emotions associated with following Israel in the news. We bash mainstream media for its bias against Israel, pick apart CNN headlines to make sure all of the right keywords are in there and rage against the double-standards that our beloved homeland is forced to endure. These are surely admirable, but when has that same passion for intellectual honesty ever manifested for our defense of YU? Can we truly say that all of our complaints against YU are fair from a pragmatic and even idealistic perspective? Can we really say we have stood up for our Yeshiva University when it is attacked as it so often is? How can we have a double-standard about when to care about double-standards?
It may seem that I am using a straw-man by not singling out any complaints in specific, but the sheer volume of the grumbles and fussing make it that either at least some are inaccurate or we are in some 3rd world prison camp. Again, YU is definitely flawed, but having a point only matters if you point it out in the right way.
But in reality, even for the justified complainers who feel that some problems can just never be solved, sometimes some perspective can help. Take for example, the fact that YU has existed since 1886. The University which we all attend is a product of hundreds upon hundreds of personalities who have shaped it during that time. This amalgamation of Jewish identity has been the epicenter of Modern Orthodox culture and thought for virtually as long as there has been modern orthodoxy (and probably haredism too). By comparison, most of us didn’t exist 25 years ago. Optimistically, we could be considered to be legitimately opinionated for maybe the last 10 of those years. This in and of itself shouldn’t silence our opinions about the institution but it is more than enough to inject a strain of humility when those opinions are formulated and expressed.
Additionally, sometimes it’s reassuring to view our problems in a broader context. For example, how often do we reflect on the fact that we complain about life in COLLEGE. We are all enrolled in a university of higher education with a chance to earn a degree, which is an accomplishment only 6.7 percent of the rest of the world can brag about. We live in a rich area, in the richest country, at the richest time in human history. This manifests itself in countless ways but some of the most profound and meaningful of them are the seemingly the most trivial. What percentage of humans who have ever existed have ever had the privilege of experiencing a hot shower or traveling in an elevator? How many have had air conditioning or have lived in a true democracy? Yet, we are all part of that selective and lucky group. This does nothing to discredit anyone who finds fault with his or her current situation and isn’t a real answer to anyone’s problems in the conventional sense. Yet I feel strongly that a lot of what holds people back from getting the most out of their time here could be corrected with this simple shift of perspective.